Weaver birds.

weaver_birds_selousOn my walking Safari with guide Hierbert from lovely Beho Beho in Selous Game Reserve, I had a fun time watching these black-headed weaver birds building their nests.

What I learnt was that the males do all the building of the elaborate nest. They will be buzzing and squeaking for days going back and forth picking up small branches and grass in hopes that their fancy nest production will attract the female weaver birds. Hierbert said the males will go as far as bringing a colorful leaf or flower to primp up the nest. Quite chivalrous of the male weaver bird don’t you think?

Once the female ‘approves’ of the nest, her home for the near future, she will help with the final female touches. The nest have a small entrance are usually built high up on the tree or around the water source. This hopefully will prevent predators from entering the nest.

A fun half an hour or so watching these weavers on my walking Safari with Beho Beho in Selous Game Reserve.

On a walking Safari, it’s about the little things. 

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Get in touch with us via email at Safari@JourneyToAfrica.com
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Together, we can plan your family Safari for the memory books. Life worth Exploring. ™

Mama and Baby Elephant.

baby_sucklingWe had the pleasure of spending a nice long time with this large elephant herd in wild Ruaha National Park. The herd was about 30 elephants strong but the best part was seeing lots of young ones. The age ranged from a few months old to a few years old and all were under the watchful eye of the many female elephants. Even in the elephant kingdom, it takes a village to raise kids.

We saw the babies play with each other, babies becoming mischievous with each other and using their trunks to wrestle, who is stronger and who is going to run away when the tough get going. All of this play was conducted under the watchful eye of the mamas who were never far away from their young.

Then, one of my favorite moments happened. A baby elephant only a few months old came to his mama and enjoyed a special bond only a mama and baby can have. Feeding time!

And we were so close, we could hear the satisfaction smack after the meal. Priceless.

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Get in touch with us via email at Safari@JourneyToAfrica.com
Call us on our Toll Free No. at 1.877.558.6288 or 713.592.6228.

Together, we can plan your family Safari for the memory books.
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5 unforgettable Safari experiences for Mothers.

mother's_dayBeing on a family Safari is a special time to make memories that you can remember forever. And who better than a mother, who loves getting everyone together, so that family stories are kept alive. Indulge mama on her Luxury Safari.

We know 5 experiences mommy would love on her Safari.

1] Let’s start with jewelry.
Mamas, we all like browsing, receiving and buying jewelry. On Safari, you will see lots of beautiful Maasai jewelry on display. So why not go straight to the source to see how it is done. Head to the Maasai village with our friend Tati of Tanzania Maasai Women Art Spend time with the Maasai women seeing how they use their beads to create unique jewelry piece. She will always have something to admire and reminisce.

The Maasai women get assistance designing these unique pieces from an Italian designer.  This relationship has helped the Maasai women gain financial independence and given us jewelry that we mother’s can enjoy. We love supporting other women.

2] A cooking class in the middle of Serengeti.
Chefs at many of the lodges will set up time to help mother’s cook up a feast. Of course she will have lots of help from the sous chefs and the kitchen staff  – she is on Safari after all. The chef will show off their talents in their kitchen. The chef will come up with a cooking plan that best suits mama and her cooking skills.

A gourmet meal is always on the menu on Safari.

3] How does date night sound on Safari!
Would mommy be traveling with young children? A big yes to bringing children on Safari. Babysitters are available!  The babysitter can play with the children in the room until you get back from your date-night dinner.

The goal here is for you to enjoy a delicious dinner with amazing wine under the African skies on your night out. Bliss on Safari.

4] A massage for mama.
Imagine coming back after your wildlife viewing to a soothing room, essential oils burning, and a massage. Don’t you feel your muscles relaxing already? Some of the lodges take you outside where nature gives you the music.

Get pampered on your Safari. Yes mom, you deserve it!

5] Fly high over Serengeti or Tarangire in a hot-air balloon.
Oh the little luxuries in life for the mother in your family. Soar over the African savannah and enjoy this special family moment in your own balloon basket. Upon landing, you will have a breakfast table set up in the middle of the park where you can toast with champagne bubbles and enjoy a delicious English breakfast under a tree.

A high flying family treasure to keep.

Add any of these fun memory keepers to your family Safari. Happiness is being on Safari.

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Get in touch with us via email at Safari@JourneyToAfrica.com
Call us on our Toll Free No. at 1.877.558.6288.

Together, we can plan your family Safari for the memory books. Life worth Exploring. ™

Ruaha National Park.

My first impression when I landed in Ruaha National Park in Southern Tanzania was … lush and cool. I had flown in from hot and dry Lake Natron. I was about to enjoy the ‘green’ season in Ruaha.

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Lovely Ruaha.

Ruaha National Park is the largest National Park in Tanzania. It is around 12,000 sq miles – larger than Serengeti National Park in Northern Tanzania.  Though quite vast, large parts of this park are not easily accessible due to a heavy Tsetse fly population.

impala_ladies

Impala ladies.

The good and bad of having Tsetse flies. The good is that is allows more land area for wildlife. The bad, we can’t enjoy spending time with wildlife without being bitten. As our guide Lorenzo from Kwihala Camp told us, there are so many part of the Ruaha that are lovely to explore, you don’t really miss going to those uncomfortable areas.

Although, Lorenzo’s secret fantasy is to find a potion that keeps TseTse flies away and then set up a lovely camp in that remote part of Ruaha.

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White headed Buffalo Weaver.

Ruaha, even though larger than Serengeti has fewer lodges. What does this mean for you visiting Ruaha? Fewer people on game drives. When we were here in the green season, we saw 1-2 cars the whole day. In the busier dry season, I am sure there would be more Safari vehicles enjoying this lovely park but you would still have a large area without bumping into too many vehicles.

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Mdonya River.

The areas where the few lodges have set up in Ruaha are close to the three huge rivers that run through this large National Park – the Mwagusi, Great Ruaha and Mdonya River.

These three rivers and it’s tributaries are the life line during the dry season which is usually from June to October. During this time, the elephants come here, dig on the water-bed and bring up the water that was filled here during the wet green season. This act of kindness also helps the other animals who depend on the  water ‘wells’ created.

elephant_herd

Elephant herd. A few babies in the group.

Our guides Lorenzo and Leverd told us that coming here in the dry season means you are bound to see large herd buffalos coming for a drink to the river. We are talking thousands and thousands buffalos. Lions are also easier to spot because the grass around here is not too tall during that time. Apparently, you don’t have to go far from the river to spot most wildlife.

Elephant herds large and small, well thankfully they can be spotted during both dry and wet season.

lion_stare

The stare!

During the wet green season, while is usually from November to May, the short and the long rains disperses the wildlife population as water is present everywhere, gets the grass tall [we are talking 3-6 ft. high depending on the area] and the bushes thick which makes spotting wildlife a much more adventurous sport. There are hundreds of lions in Ruaha and yet when we saw this lovely male lion, it was a huge treat.

lorenzo_chris_ranger

Walking Safari.

Sally, my client who joined me on Safari and I also did a walking Safari in Ruaha, a bit tricky to do in the green season. Lorenzo went to scout an area for us with more open plains. Well, that was not possible. Even though the area seemed ‘open’ there is long grass and bushes.  This made for a hair-raising walk experience which Sally and I really enjoyed but you could tell Lorenzo and Chris, our ranger, were on high alert. You can not really see what is lurking behind the bush. Will give a detailed account of my Ruaha walking Safari like I did for my Serengeti walking Safari

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Giraffe under a large Baobab tree.

There is also a good distance between the few lodges built within this large National Park so each lodge usually gets its ‘own river’ to enjoy.  Sally and I stayed in Kwihala Camp, a Asilia property and ‘our’ river was the Mwagusi River.

red-Billed_ruaha_hornbill

Red-billed Ruaha Hornbill

Even though the wildlife spotted was fewer than what Lorenzo said we would spot during the dry season, the many many lovely butterflies and birds kept us busy and excited. Oh the lovely birds of Ruaha. From the local birds like the Red-billed Ruaha hornbill to the popular East African birds like the Lilac Breasted Roller to the birds that travel the distance – from Southern Africa and all the way to Europe. Just look up – or eye level – and get carried away with all the lovely birds.

butterfly

The small things.

For those of us who go on frequent Safaris, even the green ‘quiet’ season was special. Just to be out here, have the park to yourself and enjoy the ‘hunt’ of capturing a few wildlife, lots of birds, colorful flowers all the while enjoying the stunning landscape. This experience of my Ruaha Safari was refreshing.

Ruaha has captured my soul!

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Dessert time in Stone Town, Zanzibar Island

Here we are in the hustle bustle part of historic Stone Town, Zanzibar Island, patiently waiting for the local halwa stall to serve us our almond and cashew halwa.

Halwa is a sticky dessert made with fragrant spices all cultivated in the Spice Island, one of the names of Zanzibar Island. They use cardamom, saffron, rose-water mixed in with a variety of nuts from cashew to pistachio. The mixture is held together with corn flour and ghee and lots of sugar.

This lovely treat is served best with black coffee. A sweet indulgence when on your guided walking Spice Island tour.

IMG_5659Want to taste sweet Halwa? We can add Zanzibar Island to your Safari.
Finish your time in Tanzania with the lovely beaches and blue waters of Zanzibar Island. Pure bliss!

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Lake Natron Camp.

My first stop on my Safari back to Tanzania was Lake Natron Camp in middle of the Great East African Rift Valley.

welcomeAfter a beautiful drive through this stunning landscape with Paul, we arrive at the crunchy dried soda ash entrance to the Maasai ladies coming to welcome us.  The sun setting behind us was spreading the golden hour rays making Ol Doinyo Lengai and the stunning hills around the camp look lovely.

IMG_0611Cold refreshments were served in the dining + lounge tent while the manager checked us into the camp. For those interested, wi-fi is available here. Paul, who knows Ake Lindstrom, the owner of the camp, mentioned that Ake is very keen on supporting the local Maasai community. Most of the staff here are from close by Engare Sero village. Kudos!

tents_oldoinyo

Spring water in front of most of the tents.

roomAfter our long drive, we wanted to freshen up so we were escorted to our tents. Not many dangerous wildlife here so walking on your own back to the dining camp does not require an escort.

Each of the 10 tented rooms are under a protective layer of black tarp to keep the inside cooler from the blistering heat of the Great East African Rift Valley especially during the hot months [December to March]. I am glad they had that layer as it was hot especially during our mid-afternoon siesta, part of the Safari Life. The poor old fan tried to help. You just have to give in and embrace the heat. In the evenings, with the fan on, it was more comfortable.

To leave minimal footprints in this region, the rooms are powered with solar. Sun is not a problem here.

bathroomThe bathroom has compost toilets which works fine for this harsh environment. There was enough water for a nice bucket shower. Additional lighting would make the bathroom comfortable especially in the shower area so you could find the bucket shower string.

diningThe dining and lounge area during my February stay could use an update. More lighting was needed at night around the whole dining + lounge tent. The chef serving area was in the dark side of the tent. Our table was outside the main area and did not feel like it was part of the dining area. The bar was not well stocked yet and seems detached from the main area.

I have seen reports of improvements since then. The food served by the chef was delicious and appropriate. From warm meals in the evening to the cool lunches during the heat of the day.

stunning_landscapeThe deal sealer here is the access to Lake Natron and its many splendors. Early morning walks to capture the sunrise over Ol Doinyo Lengai, the many hills and mirror-like Lake Natron. Golden hour moments in the evenings and finishing off with a glorious dip in the fresh water spring while enjoying sundowner [snacks and drinks before your evening meal] and maybe a tickle tilapia pedicure. Your feet and ‘soul’ will thank you.

sundowner_spotI look forward to returning back to Lake Natron Camp, located in the vast Rift Valley, the belly of the Earth.

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Lake Natron Region.

“Take all Safari expectations and throw them out. The real Africa is much better.” – Unknown.

Why go to Lake Natron Region located within the Great East African Rift Valley, an area that is off-the-Safari-grid [not for long] when on Safari in Northern Tanzania? That was what I was trying to discover with my friend, expert guide Paul Oliver. I think I know why.

Stunning landscape.

oldoinyo_takenbyPaul

Ol Doinyo Lengai with ash on the side.

This place is for those who want to photograph stunning landscapes. The most obvious is the glorious volcanic mountain Ol Doinyo Lengai, the mountain of God for the Maasai tribe members. The deep ridges carved from erosion, the spewed lava that comes out every 10 years or so or the depth of vegetation all reflected differently from different angles. This live mountain is very mesmerizing.

landscape_1

Glorious Lake Natron in the evening.

Alkaline rich Lake Natron and it’s reflective surface, the many rock outcrops that dot the mirror-like lake, the white soda ash on the shores and the lovely reeds that create interest. The hills are alive with character. You have to see the many hills with mini peaks that are formed to release the gas from the belly of the Earth.

If you are into landscape photography with the occasional wildlife spotting, this is your place.

Walking.

stunning_landscape

Walking to Lake Natron

The area near our camp, Lake Natron Tented Lodge is about an hour walk to the caustic Lake Natron. You have to pass through surpisingly cool water springs [it was around 90F in February], muddy patches with lots of footprints to inspect from the large zebra to the little bird prints, and then the unique, crunchy dry soda from the salty lake.

soda

The dry crusty crunchy earth with soda and zebra footprints.

There is also walking to a waterfall from the Engare Sero village which I missed seeing but heard from people staying at Lake Natron Tented Lodge that the trek was worth the cool dip.

Birds.
flamingosThis area is a the breeding ground for flamingos. Lake Natron is an alkaline lake with the right ph for the flamingoes to breed. I was expecting to see lots of flamingos but that was not the case as they had flown away further south to Lake Eyasi and east to Lake Magadi in Ngorongoro Region. You could hear them flying at night from my room. Non the less, getting so close to the flamingos by foot was quite special.

waders

Wadders flying.

Then you have the large count of migratory birds coming all the way from Europe and even Alaska. Paul, who is a birder was clicking away. Wadders were skittish around us and Paul told me about bird netting and bird poaching. Birds are facing a huge problem in many European countries like Italy, Malta to countries like Jordan. Millions of these lovely birds are served as delicacy to satisfy humans.

Of course the local birds are every present. We had fun with the Spotted Morning-thrush hanging on the branches of the acacia tree. He and Paul had a good conversation about our lovely ‘Safari life’.

Cultural stop.
hills
Historic footprints have been found here. They have calculated the age of these footprints and they are around 120,000 years old, the first modern straight standing man. This area is very close to Oldupai Gorge, where one of the first homo sapiens skull was found by the Leakey family.

I am going back to see these footprints on my return Safari to Lake Natron in 2016.

A Safari with Paul Oliver is in the works for May / June 2016. Come join us.
Fill our out our Contact Us form and we will keep you posted on the Safari.

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Back from my Safari.

I am back from my Safari in Tanzania. Sigh. The thing about going on a Safari is that as soon as you come back, you want to start planning your next Safari. I LoVe being on Safari.

Quick re-cap on my Safari where I had a few extra perks. I spent two days with professional guide Paul Oliver in the hot temperature ‘belly of the Earth’, from Lake Natron Tented Camp. The landscape here was stunning.  I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the Rift Valley, the birds and their incredible long and perilous journey, general in-depth happenings in this Maasai region, details about other National Parks – I have a lot more to see in Tanzania – and so much more.

And there is a Safari brewing with Paul as the lead guide. Details coming up.

Sunset with Ol Doinyo Lengai in the background from Lake Natron Tented Camp, my first stop on my Safari.

In Ruaha, my client Sally was waiting for me. Oh what fun we had exploring this dense because of green season, cooler in temperature, full of wild flowers stunning Ruaha. Our guides Lorenzo and Leverd from Kwihala Camp were super fun as there was not much ‘visible’ game. We just ‘heard’ the hundreds of cats. More on green season Ruaha coming up.

Lorenzo with our ranger Chris took us on a walking Safari through the tall grasses and lush bushes – adrenaline pumping experience. We witnessed a rainbow in the clouds here – one for the memory books. Can not wait to come back and explore Ruaha in the dry season.

Sally Mefi

Sally and I in Selous on our walking Safari. Can you spot the wild animal?

I finished off with Selous Game Reserve. Green season again meant patience when going on game drives but Sally and I got to witness two male lions on our walking Safari. Heart beating.

I was looking forward to experiencing boating and it did not disappoint. Sally and I enjoyed the many birds and baboons – yes, baboons are so entertaining if you watch them closely for a long time – on the way to lovely Stiegler’s Gorge from Sand River Selous. I also got to spend time in Lake Tagalala and the hot springs before I was spoilt at stunning Beho Beho Camp.

I am in the middle of editing over 2000 pictures. Digital photography does make it easy to go click-crazy especially when I had my 70-300 mm f4-5.6L on my Canon camera body.

Dreaming of being back on Safari ….. soon.

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My camera gear on Safari

My Safari camera bag is getting prepped. Everytime I head out on my Safari, the what camera and lens to take itch starts. When you follow some awesome photographers you can’t help but want to come back with those amazing pictures. Those captures where you can see every lion whisker or see the feathers on a flying bird crystal clearly. I aspire to be like them.

But I have to remember that is their passion. Their job. They have high-end camera equipments and are prepared to carry the heavy weight lenses in special bags. They may sell those pictures or publish articles. Or maybe they just really love photography and the camera and lens is part of the enjoyment. Some of my professional photographer clients have bought two seats to accommodate their camera gear.

camera

70-300 mm on Safari in Serengeti

I am a hobbyist photographer. I shoot mostly in auto and play a bit with the custom settings. I love good pictures but the weight of the lens and length size is a factor. I am going to suggest what I am taking on my upcoming Safari.

Another thing that I have learnt in the many years of going on a Safari. Rent. Camera equipment is expensive. The only time I get the itch to get new lens or camera is when I am heading out for a Safari. I have found a local Houston renter called the Photo Rental Source that I used last time and am going to do so again. They ship around the US. Some other reputable dealers are BorrowLenses and Lens Rental.

In my camera bag, which is my bag-pack with a camera insert, I am going to carry ::
– My old model Canon T3i.  I would like to stick with my body or I may rent the 60D.
– I really enjoyed using the 70 – 300 mm f4-5.6 L IS on my last Safari and I am sticking with the lens. I liked the photographs I got with this camera. The other option I was considering is the 100 – 400 mm f4-5.6 L but I am going to be doing some walking in Ruaha and Selous and this lens is a heavy. I hope I don’t regret it since I am starting to like birding and this is a birder favorite. I know most pros like prime lens. Love what they get with those large lens.
– For taking pictures of the lodges that I need to review and when I did my walking in Serengeti, I enjoyed using the 24-105 mm f4 IS. It was easy on my back for the whole day walking. I know pros go between this and the 24-70 mm f2.8.
– My Canon Powershot p95 was a good little one for tight squeezes like when I was co-piloting.
– And the iphone 5s – always handy.

My accessories ::
– Camera cleaning kits. A good cleanup end of the day is a good idea.
– Battery charger.
– Converter for the prongs. Most of the chargers are 110-240 V but the prongs vary.
– 2-3 batteries. Our vehicles have charging stations which makes it easy to always have a spare ready.  Evenings at the lodges are also a good time to recharge.
– 2 -3 memory cards. Adjust size and quantity depending on your length of Safari and how much you like to take. Normally you average 400-600 per day. Make sure you get a fast speed card. Nothing more frustration then taking an action shot and your card has to ‘think’.

That should be it. I hope this gives you a starting guideline on camera and lens gear for your Safari with Journey To Africa. Happiness is being on Safari.

I can’t wait to share pictures on the blog from my upcoming Safari.

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What to pack on your Safari?

The excitement of my Safari is mounting.  The say that the anticipation phase of a trip is just as exciting as the actual adventure. I agree.

fireplaceI can’t wait to sit by the fire-place in the evening enjoying the almost full moon and stars with Paul or my client Sally and go over our day.

It does get cooler during the evenings even if the day is hot. A fleece or sweater is a good idea. A more heavy one is needed during the cold months.  Last time in June, it was quite chilly during the day time so I had long pants. Paul emailed to say it will be ‘hot and beautiful in Natron’. I plan on taking shorts on this Safari. There will be lots of walking on this Safari. Closed toe shoes for sure.

I am trying to keep it to a carry-on as I will be doing a lot of local flying. I am restricted to 33 lbs of weight plus my weight limit on KLM is 26 lbs for carry-on. I am taking a soft bag [they need to squeeze bags sometimes in the luggage compartment in the small flying taxis] that I have used for years and don’t worry when it comes with extra scratches or dust.

Clothing items I plan on taking on this Safari.
– A warm sweater or fleece for evening. I love this fleece cardigan from Nordstrom.
– 2 pants and 2 shirts for the evenings time that will stay clean. Mix and match is the way to go. Ladies, sneak in a light necklace for instant glam.
– Scarfs. I have one for evenings and one light one for day time. The vehicles tend to be dusty so keeping them separate is a good idea. The scarf can be used as a mask again dust, protecting your neck from the sun and those times you need a wipe.  Putting on a clean one in the evening feels good and instantly dresses you up.
– 2 shorts and 2 hiking pants with 3-4 t-shirts for the day time.
– My closed-toe shoes. I used privo clarks to walk in Serengeti for a whole day and my feet were happy. I may just wear this on the plane as well.
–  Sandals. I have my Birkenstock which I like. A good idea to pack for the comfort in your tent or even on a game drive where there is no walking.
– Wind-jacket. Highly recommend this especially since a lot of the vehicles on Safari are open. The morning and evening wind does get chilly. And when in Serengeti, there was the unexpected rain. I was prepared.
– Sun hat of course.
– Undergarments preferable quick dry ones so you can wash overnight. In most of the lodges, they will provide soap to wash but taking a small laundry bar may be a good idea. This is a good brand as it is environment friendly.

One thing to note is that most lodges we recommend have laundry included or there is a nominal fee for laundry. Take advantage of this service.

Guys, there are a few modification you would need to make but you get the idea of what is necessary.

Personal items:
– Hand wipes. For those times when you have to eat lunch after your game drive and you need to wipe off the dust. Dispose them off properly in the camp.
– I usually take face wipes. Saves on liquid worry at the airport as well as a water savers.
– Shampoo + conditioner travel size. Though I have to say, I used the lodge provided shampoo + conditioner the past couple of Safaris and my hair and I survived. I may skip this again.
– SPF 50+ is a must on Safari.
– Hat.  We do give you a Journey To Africa baseball cap on arrival.
– Flash light. In the middle of the night, should you need to go to the enclosed rest room, this may come in handy as most tented lodges turn off lights after a certain time.
– Mosquito repellant wipes. I got this tip from Susan of the Insatiable Traveler.
– Ladies, umhh, I have used these pee directors and can vouch for them. Enough said.
– Medical first-aid kit. Take your prescriptions as carry-on. A must!! Then you have band-aid, neosporin, cortisone cream, immodium [you never know], Advil or Tylenol. This is just a sample.
– Contact wearers, there is dust on Safari. But, I prefer my contacts over recommended glasses. What to do? I always wear my big sunglasses. They usually help. But I always have my glasses as back-up. I take extra contacts in case I need to put on a fresh pair mid-day. Remember to clean your hands first.
– For those who need a little make-up to feel put together, go ahead, take a small pouch. If you feel good, you enjoy more. Keep strong perfumes/colognes at home. An insect magnet.

Self Image

My trusty hat and wind jacket

And then if you forget anything, you can always buy in Tanzania in the towns before you head on Safari [except prescriptions please], re-wear as no one is really looking or ask the lodges if they can help.

The most important packing tip – your sense of adventure! 

Camera gear next.
Looking at binoculars as well. I always use the guides but this time I am thinking I need to get one of my own especially since I am going with Paul who is an avid birder. I don’t think he will be willing to share with me.

Life worth Elogoxploring. ™
Make memories on your Journey To Africa Safari.

Get in Touch //
Email us – Safari@JourneyToAfrica.com
Toll Free – 1.877.558.6288
Outside of US – 1.713.592.6228
Fill out a simple form – Request Information